I have a single Google Alert, set to collect articles containing the keyword “anxiety” in their titles. I use this daily email to keep abreast of the latest studies, treatments, journal articles, and pop-culture news surrounding anxiety disorders, but invariably several entirely unrelated entries pop up each day that are irrelevant to clinical anxiety but also happen to contain the word. It’s an interesting little way to gauge what things are causing anxiety in the public consciousness. Range anxiety for Tesla’s new electric car was a big one a few weeks ago.
Unsurprisingly, over the past couple of days my Google Alert email has brimmed with articles discussing election anxiety: who has it, who should have it, how to deal. I was a very minimal election-anxiety sufferer; the New York Times and the polls both seemed to think that a Hillary presidency was all but inevitable, and I let myself believe them. Election anxiety, I thought to myself smugly, is probably the one kind of anxiety I don’t have. I congratulated myself on my calm rationality.
This is quite possibly the first time in my life I’m looking back on a situation and kicking myself for not having been more anxious. I wasn’t terribly politically active this election year. I stayed out of discourses and kept my political opinion largely out of my social media presence, partially because I didn’t feel informed enough to make judgment calls on specific policy issues and partially because some part of me just didn’t believe a Trump presidency was possible. The whole thing felt like a poorly-premised reality TV show, and I just kept waiting for it to fizzle out.
In a lot of ways, I still feel that way. This is a strange in-between time; it’s useless to ruminate on all the things I could have done leading up to this election, and dubious whether being more politically active could have made a meaningful difference in the outcome. It’s equally useless to cower in frightened anticipation of what will or will not happen in January when The Donald officially takes office. He seems to be entirely facade. Like his giant, gauche edifices, he has an exaggerated exterior that undeniably attracts attention, but there is no interior world to match his gleaming display. He is himself entirely surface, expensive and in-your-face and designed for publicity. This man was elected for his otherness and for the savvy, nouveau-riche tycoon he professes to be, not what he stands for; it’s unclear what his true stance is on many policy issues, and may remain so until he is given the power to take decisive action. Scary. Donald’s bark is loud and angry and apparently galvanizing to millions of dissatisfied blue-collar workers, but the nature of his bite remains to be seen.
I’m still stuck in a vaguely shocked state, but I’m sure the anxiety will hit me eventually, as it already has for so many of my friends. When it does, what should we do? My best guess is this: we stay present, we extend love and support to our environment and to the people around us, and we wait. I don’t know quite what to think, or if there’s anything to be done on a macro scale. However he attempts to rule us from his ivory tower in D.C., whatever hateful or ignorant rhetoric he tries to feed us, Donald cannot reach into our everyday lives and change us unless we let him. He cannot get into our hearts, governing our personal choices with doubt and fear and self-interest, unless we let him. We have the power to try to live more sustainably, to smile at each other in the streets, to respect each other’s differences and create inclusive communities on a person-to-person, everyday level, which is ultimately the scale on which all of us live our lives. We can’t change the reality of whatever will happen when he takes office, and we can’t fix the unutterable suffering of the immigrants and minorities and women who may be affected by his presidency. We can, however, choose to take this loss as a challenge to be the best, most generous versions of ourselves. Given how limited my individual agency feels at this point, it seems like the only decent option we have.
Thoughts? Comment below!